Clifton Mooney Makes Hot Queer Art From Humble Polaroids
The Hot Queer Polaroids of Clifton Mooney
New York City and the pandemic have forged a new star in the photography world. Clifton Mooney was working as a nurse treating COVID patients in a Harlem hospital when he turned to Polaroid photos as a creative outlet. "It's quite literally my escape from that part of my life," the gay Texas native attests. His images -- erotic portraits of queer men, close-ups of the male form along with plants and fruit -- call to mind Robert Mapplethorpe and Tom Bianchi's Fire Island Pines -- both influences of the artist.
Mooney's work has cultivated many admirers: over 40,000 people follow his Instagram accounts (@gauchecowboy and @gauchefilm). With a rising profile, he's captured Christopher Meloni for Interview magazine. And queer celebrities like Special's Ryan O'Connell and Bowen Yang have also posed for him.
What's behind his work's popularity? "People love nudity. They do," Mooney shares. "At first, I didn't like that. But also, it's helped me both to become more sex-positive and express myself sexually as well. I also think -- and what I hope to be more important is -- that I'm taking a Polaroid photograph, and instead of using it as a toy, I'm taking [it] into a more legitimate medium of film photography."
As mediums, Mooney says Polaroid and digital cameras are "incomparable," which is part of the reason he prefers the "vibe" of the former. "The imperfection in the chemicals when squeezed out of the camera, light leaks, contrast issues are inevitable when a Polaroid photograph is taken. I think you can infer what I'm saying about life when I compare the two in this way," he says.
While Mooney loves a "decked-out photo studio," he prefers to capture his subjects in their homes -- like Finn McMurray (@0000finn) and Elliot S. Frank (@elliotsfrank) in this shoot for Out -- since their living spaces are "more telling of them than any pose I want them to be in.... I believe that a portrait of someone taken in their home gives them a sense of power in the photo shoot as well and creates a more comfortable vibe." Frank is captured in the collage; McMurray is featured in the rest.
Mooney hopes his photos spark real-life connection among LGBTQ+ people in a time when many are quite literally disconnected from one another. "I want people to talk again. I feel as queer people in the social media, dating app, digital age, we've lost an in-person connection."
"We are only left to assume what we actually know about each other instead of talking. We just 'like,' 'comment,' 'DM,' 'hookup,' and it's not helping anyone -- specifically marginalized communities such as queer people."
This article is part of Out's March/April 2022 issue, appearing on newsstands April 5. Support queer media and subscribe -- or download the issue through Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.